Saturday, July 13, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

New York - resort?

I took my annual summer resort New York City! Now many folks wouldn't think of New York City as a resort and certainly not as a summer resort. But for most of its history, New York was precisely that - especially for the poor and middle class that make/made up so much of the city's populace. Why? Because they couldn't afford the time or the money to reach out to the numerous lakes in the mountains north of town or the expansive beaches of eastern Long Island. Nope, hundreds of thousands made do with the likes of the Bronx's Orchard Beach and City Island. The trolley and later the subway brought droves to Brooklyn's Coney Island, Manhattan Beach, Plum Beach, and Brighton Beach. Sheepshead Bay (it looks like a sheep's head from the air) offers deep sea fishing at a reasonable price. And the prime resort area remains the Rockaways.  Queens's seven mile plus stretch of sand from Far Rockaway to Rockaway Point with views of New Jersey's Atlantic Highlands provides some of the finest beaches on the east coast.

The boat we took was actually called Martha's Vineyard
 (or something a Red Sox fan would like)

Some work - some play

Although I was in Rockaway, this year my resort activity was somewhat curtailed.  I was under a deadline to get the edited manuscript of The Cavalier Spy reviewed and back to the publisher (done). So my summer fun in the sun was restricted to a one day visit to the beach. However, I took advantage of a special deal set up by NYC as a result of Hurricane Sandy.  Because of Sandy's impact on mass transit in the Rockaways, the city contracted a fast boat to go from Beach 108th Street and Jamaica Bay around the end of the Rockaways and up New York bay to lower  Manhattan. Readers of The Patriot Spy know Manhattan was called The Island of New York during the time of the American Revolution. The trip takes an average of 38 minutes each way for the round trip cost of $4! Like that, badabing, you are staring up at the lofty buildings of New York's financial district.  So what the heck does this have to do with the American Revolution? Well, the boat ride passed many of the critical points of the British invasion of New York back in the summer of 1776.

Sailing into the past

British cross the harbor towards Gravesend Bay

As the boat eased out of Jamaica Bay and turned into New York's impressive lower harbor, I could look to the the southwest and see Sandy Hook, New Jersey. But back in 1776, the Sandy Hook included a sand bar that blocked the lower harbor, preventing large British warships from crossing over it except during extreme high tide. A few minutes later we were approaching the Verrazano Narrows. The British went through the narrows and landed an army of twenty-four thousand or so on Staten Island, then a Tory  stronghold. After recovering for a few weeks they launched barges and longboats across the narrows and landed  troops at Gravesend Bay. This was on my right (starboard side) just before I reached the narrows, not far from today's Fort Hamilton. The few American defenders there ran off at the sight of the British. We continued on another ten minutes with Bayonne on our port and Bay Ridge, then Red Hook, on our starboard. Near Red Hook is the Gowanus Canal: the remnant of the Gowanus Creek that played such a critical role in Washington's defenses on Long Island. The boat soon approached Governor's Island, where Royal Governor's resided during colonial times.  The last  Royal Governor of colonial New York, nasty William Tryon, evacuated a year earlier but returned in 1776 with the British armada.

The Sea Streak sails from the Rockaway peninsula on the lower right and up the harbor to the
lower extreme of Manhattan. Note the narrows and Governors Island.
The Sandy Hook is just off the bottom of the photo,

The final heading

The Gloucester Regiment evacuates Washington's army from its defenses
near the Heights of Brooklyn
Passing the narrow channel between Governor's Island and Brooklyn, the boat entered the waters of the lower East River. To our starboard front lay Brooklyn Heights, just south of the famed Brooklyn Bridge. This was the location of Washington's headquarters during the battle for Long Island, and the point from which the Gloucester seamen evacuated the beleaguered army on a stormy night with the British front lines not more than a few hundred yards distant! The crossing from Brooklyn to New York was considerably wider than it is today, as the Manhattan's expansive use of landfill has narrowed the river by a almost a quarter mile.

The (old) City of New York

We arrived at lower New York, which during the time of the Yankee Doodle Spies extended not too far beyond today's Wall Street. We landed in the lower central portion of this image of early colonial New York. Note how the city abruptly ends at the Wall Street, it extended past Chambers Street by the mid 1700s.

Pearl Street was a contemporary thoroughfare about a half mile north of where we landed. It probably looked little different from this image from the Dutch era, although the docks and buildings would be more extensive as the city had grown. I will do a future blog on some of the revolutionary war era sites that still remain in the city.  Of course, the march of history (not progress) has limited them to only a few.

Dutch style buildings still dominated New York during the
time of the Yankee Doodle Spies


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